Maile School Fashion Summer Camp at Mall at Millenia

I used to dislike children. I still occasionally feel as if the sly smiles befalling their innocent faces hide a plan to take over the world. However, ever since I started living full time with my sister and my brilliant niece, I have found a new appreciation for how fun kids can be. I love coming home from work to my niece’s screams of “Stephanie!” That and the feeling of her tiny body barreling into mine in a hug makes my afternoons. We play games, practice her letters and numbers, and munch on ice while watching classic Disney films. She’s also my Goddaughter; the titles of aunt and Godmother plus the general overwhelming sense of affection I have for her will often consume me, and the only way to properly release that energy is to buy her lots and lots of stuff. Toys, games, and stuffed animals; nothing is ever too much for her.

My particular favorite item to gift my niece is, unsurprisingly, given my penchant for excessive shopping, is clothes and shoes! I squeal over adorable vintage patterned dresses, drool over cozy cardigans, and swoon over polka dot Mary Janes. Having never been in close contact with a child before this, imagine my surprise when those absolutely adorable cherry sandals I purchased for her a month ago no longer fit. I started feeling anxiety over the sheer amount of clothing she would go through over the passing years. I couldn’t help but think of all the parents that are at this moment concerning themselves with finding acceptable ensembles for their own school age children to dawn on those first days of classes in the coming weeks. With the sheer volume of available clothing choices, where on earth does a parent start?

Mall at Millenia has found a way to answer that question. In the month of July, just a few short weeks before the new school year begins, they have created a special Fashion camp and show to lend a little inspiration to the old adage, “What will I wear today?” Except this time it’s kid-sized. The solution is the mam2Maile School Fashion Summer Camp.

The Maile School Fashion Summer Camp runs from July 15 to July 25. Mail Image, Modeling, and Acting school professionals will teach children ages 6-11 runway modeling, proper forms of social communication in public speaking and interview techniques, and even take headshots that undoubtedly will make your cute kids even cuter. All the kids involved in the Summer camp will then be featured in the Back to School Fashion Show on August 3 from 1 pm to 3 pm in the Grand Court. The event will showcase styles from many of Mall at Millenia’s most fabulous stores modeled by kids like yours.

Check at Mall at Millenia’s webpage for information on how to sign up your son or daughter for the Summer Camp. If you’re not interested grab your kiddies on the 3rd. If you like what you say you can take advantage of the sales tax holiday occurring from August 2-4. Any clothing purchase totaling less than $75 on this weekend in all of Florida will not be subject to that counties sales tax. It’s as if the Mall at Millenia knew this! Shopping for your kids need not be a stressful event if you know what you are looking for. Check out the Back to School Fashion Show and let them choose the outfits for you.

Best Beaches Near Orlando

Orlando’s location in Central Florida means Orlando residents have excellent options to soak in the sun on the beach near Orlando. If you’re looking for the closest beach, taking the 528 Beach Line straight to Cocoa Beach will likely be the quickest option if you’re looking for immediate beach. Cocoa Beach doesn’t make the list for best beaches near Orlando, however, as you’ll see.

This list of best beaches near Orlando includes East Coast Atlantic and West Coast Gulf options and all can be reached in two hours or less. We’ll start with the East Coast…

New Smyrna Beach
Distance from Downtown Orlando: 56 miles
Est. Travel Time: 1 hour

New Smyrna Beach is one of the most frequent beaches near Orlando that we visit. It’s easily the most frequent beach I visit on the East Coast. Frankly, it’s the only (unless I’m in South Florida or near Jacksonville). If you’re in Orlando and want an East Coast beach, there’s no better option that New Smyrna Beach.

The beach itself is clean. On parts of the beach, you can drive on the beach. Driving on the beach is convenient, but can also be dangerous if you have little ones running around. Overall, the type of visitor at New Smyrna is decent. Like any beach, you get a mixed crowd, but it tends to be a notch above crowds at Daytona or Cocoa.

The town at New Smyrna Beach is excellent. It’s simply a great beach town whether you’re in to shopping, eating or drinking. New Smyrna has a lively bar scene and a great group of local eateries. For breakfast, hit up Bagel World. For lunch, get a sandwich from Mon Delice. At dinner time, head over to Spanish River.

If you’re looking for overnight options, check out VRBO for plenty condo and beachfront rental options. Want something a little more romantic? Check out the Black Dolphin Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Anna Maria Island
Distance from Downtown Orlando: 126 miles
Est. Travel Time: 2 hours

Best beaches

Looking for a world class beach near Orlando without the commercialization and noise of most beach towns? Anna Maria Island has you covered. One of my favorite destinations, Anna Maria Island is a small island town with little to do other than enjoy the pristine Gulf Coast beaches. The island is almost entirely residential with no high rise condos or buildings. It’s very different from the vast majority of Florida beach towns. If you’re looking to get away without having to fly to the Caribbean, Anna Maria is a great option to consider.

One of the unique features of the Anna Maria beaches are the sand dunes (see the above picture).  These dunes are gorgeous and offer some excellent backdrops for family photos!

If your thing is dining, Anna Maria has somewhat limited options – again, it’s very non-commercial – but that’s not to say it’s without great restaurants. Sandbar is probably the most well known restaurant on Anna Maria simply because of the view. You can literally sit in white powder sand while you eat your dinner and watch a gorgeous sunset. The food is fairly average, but you can’t beat the views. Go for the sunset, the drinks and enjoy some standard casual, “beachy” fare. If you’re looking for something nicer and more expensive, check out Beach Bistro down in Holmes Beach.

The main street area of the island is Pine Ave. There are some fun shops on the strip and of course, the pier on the end is a great place for photos and enjoying the water (on the bay side).

Lodging is almost entirely rentals – mostly homes. There are options ranging from super cheap to super expensive. Goto a vacation rental site and just start browsing. I would suggest staying either north of Pine Ave or no more than a few blocks south of it. Almost the entire island is walkable, but being able to walk to the north point (Bean Point) is fantastic. There are views across the opening of Tampa Bay including the Sunshine Skyway in the distance. The stretch of beaches down from the northern tip on the Gulf side stretches for miles. It’s tough to find better beaches than this stretch.

Siesta Key Beach
Distance from Downtown Orlando: 137 miles
Est. Travel Time: 2 hours

Looking for comparable beaches to Anna Maria but want a little more action? Head to Siesta Key – one of the islands off Sarasota, Florida. Sarasota and Siesta Key is just south of Anna Maria Island. Siesta Key has world famous beaches and is frequently on lists detailing the world’s best beaches.

Unlike Anna Maria, Siesta Key is definitely commercialized. There are a number of high rise condominium buildings on Siesta Key Beach. Specifically, the main beach on Siesta Key is known as Crescent Beach – named for the crescent shape of it. Just south of Crescent Beach, you’ll get into the area known as Turtle Beach. In my opinion, you’ll want to stick with Crescent Beach. On the northern part of Crescent Beach, you’ll find the public beach for Siesta Key.

Not only is Siesta Key one of the top beaches anywhere, but the Sarasota area is fantastic for dining, shopping and other activities. The gorgeous dining and shopping area of St. Armands Circle on Lido Key is about 20 minutes drive from Siesta Key. Go there late in the afternoon for shopping, then have dinner at the Columbia Restaurant. Nearby Sr. Armands, you’ll find the Chart House on Longboat Key – one of my favorite destinations in the Sarasota area.

For dining options closer to and on Siesta Key, I recommend the Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar – a much more casual, inexpensive seafood restaurant that is great fun. In the Siesta Key Village area, Siesta Key Oyster Bar is a famous spot for drinks and food (super casual). For breakfast, check out the Broken Egg in the Siesta Key Village.

Where should you stay? There are plenty of condo options right on the beach such as the Crystal Sands building. Like the other recommended beach options near Orlando, you can spend hours surfing the web looking at rental options at Siesta Key.

What about boating?

It’s also worth noting that if you’re a boater, there are many options where you can get a rental with beach access. On Anna Maria and in Siesta Key, there are a number of homes that are on the canals where you can have your boat parked literally in the back yard of the home and have access to the Gulf. Boating on the west coast is incredible. Launch from Anna Maria and head down into Sarasota – pull your boat up to Phillippi Creek Restaurant for example. Launch from Sarasota and head south to areas like Boca Grande or even keep going to Captiva.

Over in New Smyrna, you have a number of boating options as well. Plenty of boaters enjoy the intercoastal water ways. Research rentals that have drop in access or find rentals nearby public drop ins. Combining the best beaches in Florida with the boating lifestyle is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Floridian lifestyle!

Finding a world class beach near Orlando is easy. Find some weekends in the future to enjoy each of the three beach options listed above. You’ll find things you love about each of them. Then, come back and let us know your favorite beach near Orlando!

Photo credit: Paigehenderson via Flickr

Orlando Pinkberry Stores Closing

Orlando Pinkberry

Despite making some waves locally when they opened a few years ago, several Pinkberry stores in Orlando have already closed and are closing in the near future.

The original Orlando Pinkberry store at the Dr. Phillips Marketplace is closing this week (July 2013). A nearby store at Mall at Millenia already has closed.

Pinkberry at the Florida Mall remains open for now.

The Dr. Phillips Marketplace location of course is the old TCBY Yogurt spot adjacent to the Starbucks. TCBY owned the location for years and years until a Coldstone moved in across the parking lot. The competition essentially put both stores out of business. Then, Pinkberry moved in.

Pinkberry has many fans, but with the yogurt craze peaking not too long ago and the high prices that Pinkberry continually charges, it appears that the business could not stay afloat. Pinkberry was known for tasty flavors like Green Tea and Pomegranate; however, larger sizes with toppings and the prices approached ten bucks. In an economy where discretionary income is stagnant, it’s not surprising that this is an expensive treat for many families.

Interestingly, Pinkberry locations have closed in other markets (such as Nashville). Some speculate that the franchise fee and setup makes profitability difficult. It’s been reported that initial franchise fee is in the $45,000 range, but that doesn’t include equipment & build out costs and royalty fees. It’s been rumored that the all-in launch costs for a location can reach $300,000, but that is just speculation.

Other Orlando frozen yogurt players might be happy to see Pinkberry go as it decreases local competition, but it’s likely indicative of a larger trend that the frozen yogurt market has peaked both locally in Orlando and around the country. We love Pinkberry and frozen yogurt treats as much as the next person, but do we need a store on every corner throughout Orlando? It’s likely not sustainable.

We’ll be watching to see if the Pinkberry at Florida Mall will stay in business…if you’re a Dr Phillips resident, be sure to grab the Pinkberry while it lasts for a few more days…

Eat Healthy: Orlando Vegetarian Restaurants

Vegetarians are increasing in numbers at a rapid rate. As such, Orlando vegetarian restaurants are increasing as well.

It is rare for me to attend any party or outing and not find at least one person in the group encouraging us to try the vegan appetizer they brought to share. Before you carnivores deprecate the following statement finish reading; this is one of the best things that could have happened to our food culture.

Here comes the part where non-vegetarians need to contain their burgeoning glower and vegetarians will have trouble hiding their growing smile (by hiding I mean blatantly grinning smugly); meat can be boring. More importantly, meat and potatoes and the accompanying vegetable that is always pushed to the side and left on the plate at the end of the meal can eventually cause a crippling food ennui leading to a pitfall into lazy eating and, God forbid, a spiral into fast food for lunch.

I love a juicy steak, but greatness is usually dictated by cut, rub, and cooking method. There are only so many cow variations and the same holds true for poultry, pork, and even fish. I love food and I love, most importantly, a variety of food and flavor combinations. It is my opinion that the growing vegetarian culture has provided us with insight into new, tasty options I would have never considered had it not been for the creative flora eaters tired of PB&J’s and rice with veggies. From radishes to tofu, my foray into the eating habits of herbivores has made me a happier omnivore with a far more experienced palate than before.

With this in mind, the following are some of the best vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Orlando that any type of eater could easily enjoy.

Dandelion Communitea Café

My absolute favorite place for lunch, regular or vegetarian, Dandelion has a fresh taste that can’t be beat. I have been countless times to this small house on the outskirts of the city off Colonial.

dandeilion

Part restaurant, part tea-house, and part art exhibit, this locally owned restaurant is nestled in a quaint green domicile surrounded by a large outdoor yard filled with tables and chairs and great conversation.  The interior is bright and colorful; their menu is plain and brown but brimming with unique choices. Their most popular menu item, the Giddy-Up can be consumed as a wrap or a bowl with spring mix and quinoa and has an assortment of veggies with their absolutely delicious and satisfying tempeh based Chile drenching everything and vegan queso or dairy cheese to top it all off. If you go on Mondays it’s only $5. They have drink specials often and an afternoon special where all starters are $5. The Summer of Love Rolls with the peanut dressing; just go try it, now if you can. My favorite is the fakin’ bacon BLT or the portabella sandwich. Walk in and be ready for a super friendly staff and delicious fresh food for your repast.

Ethos Vegan Kitchen

Ethos in Winter Park is one of my favorite Orlando vegetarian restaurants and focuses more on providing you a meal that satisfies the want for the typical meals you may have grown up eating, but with a vegan twist. It uses many meat substitutes apart from the usual tempeh and tofu, such a soy based seitan. The meals are often exactly what you might find in a regular restaurant, Shepherd’s Pie for example or Rosemary Chikin’, but with the aforementioned substitutes. My absolute favorite has to be the tofu curry wrap. I enjoy the food every time I go but if you are a meat eater do not expect to be fooled. I am personally not a fan of the processed soy imitation products apart from tofu, and usually shy away from those options. However my vegetarian friends absolutely love it. This feels a little more like a restaurant than Dandelion and is more appropriate for a formal outing.

There are far more restaurants catering to vegetarians that I have not tried but will do so very soon. The following are some of those options. I’ll be sure to let you know what I think once I take a stab at them.

My musings in Winter Park have led me to discover the unassuming Café 118 on a side street of Park Avenue. Research tells me this restaurant is dedicated to the raw food movement, and nothing is cooked at over 118o degrees. I love food adventures but the tricky cooking causes a hike in prices. I am planning on visiting in December when my vegetarian best friend visits from her home in South Korea and will be sure to let you know how it goes. Another more regular vegan restaurant I am excited to try out is the Loving Hut also off Colonial. I see it on often on my drive to and from work. It has mixed reviews but seems to be a true vegan kitchen I am eager to try.

I am not a foodie, but I love trying new things. Vegetarian cuisine is a daring approach to expanding your source of flavors no matter your preferences.  Vegan acquaintances laud these places not just for their service but also for the ideas they take home and use in their own kitchens. Don’t be afraid to try these new places, I am positive you won’t be disappointed.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Whittemore

Your Guide To The Best Universal Orlando Rides

While tourists from around the globe flock to the world class theme parks in Orlando, I know many locals that love to hit up the theme parks especially Universal Orlando. With less a “kiddie” focus than the Disney parks across town, I think locals prefer the Universal parks. Universal Orlando has been extremely busy in recent years upgrading the parks and building new attractions. We’re here today to discuss the best Universal Orlando rides and offer some tips in maximizing your experience at the Universal Orlando parks of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

Let’s start with Universal Studios – the original Universal Orlando park.

While Studios started with iconic rides like King Kong, Jaws, Back to the Future and Earthquake, none of these attractions remain. They’ve been replaced with Simpsons, Twister, Revenge of the Mummy and others.

Universal Studios opened the Transformers ride in June 2013 which is a fantastic attraction and a take off the hugely popular trilogy of Transformers movies. The Transformers ride is a simulation based ride – similar to Spiderman at Islands of Adventure. You’re in a car that moves around with some medium jerking around, but overall, it will definitely appeal to the masses with regards to thrill level. It’s very, very well done. If you enjoyed the movies, you’ll love the ride. If you don’t care for the movies, you’ll probably still love the ride.

Universal Orlando Rides

Universal also made news in that they are expanding the enormously popular Harry Potter attraction into the Universal Studios theme park. The area that was Jaws is now closed and becoming the 2nd Harry Potter area. Interestingly, Universal is building a train themed after the train from the Harry Potter movies to transport guests from the Harry Potter area in Universal Studios to the Harry Potter area at Islands of Adventure. How’s that for a reason to buy multi-park tickets to Universal Orlando? The new Harry Potter attraction called Diagon Alley is scheduled for open in 2014. More on Harry Potter later…

The other excellent rides at Universal Studios are Revenge of the Mummy, Simpsons and the Rip Ride Rockit Rollercoaster. Sure, there are other fun attractions like Men In Black and Despicable Me, but the top rides at Studios are going to be Transformers, Revenge of the Mummy and Simpsons.

Revenge of the Mummy is an indoor roller coaster that is a notch above rides like Transformers and Simpsons on the thrill meter. There are some decent drops and speeds while in the darkness as you’re chased by the scary Mummy from the movies. It’s a great ride and very enjoyable.

The Simpsons ride took over the iconic Back to the Future ride basically by re-theming the existing ride. It’s a fantastically enjoyable ride. Universal recently announced that they are building up the area around the Simpsons attraction to become “Springfield” from the cartoons which will include the Kwik-E Mart and Moe’s Tavern. It’ll be a hit for Simpsons fans.

Lastly, Universal in an attempt to keep up with the “roller coaster wars” of Orlando built the Rip Ride Rockit a few years ago. It’s a massive thrill ride with a completely vertical drop. If you like roller coasters, you’ll love this ride.  It’s a nice addition to Universal Studios which typically has had rides that don’t appeal to the major thrill seekers.

The most impressive thing about Universal Orlando is how they’ve continued to keep Universal Studios fresh. They are unmatched in how they have kept the technology and attractions up-to-date to continue to attract guests.

Now, let’s look at Islands of Adventure (IOA) – the newer of the two parks for Universal Orlando.

For many years, the main focal point of IOA with regards to rides was Marvel Island. Marvel Island is home to Spiderman, Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall and the Hulk roller coaster. All three are great rides and have varying degrees of thrill level. Spiderman has been a classic ride with great technology, but sadly, now appears slightly dated compared to the newer rides of Harry Potter and Transformers. Nevertheless, it’s still a must ride if you hit up IOA. The Hulk coaster is also a must do if you’re into roller coasters.

Since opening Harry Potter, Islands of Adventure is now all about Harry Potter. Universal Orlando absolutely hit a home run with this addition to IOA. So much so that they’re adding Harry Potter to the Universal Studios side. The Forbidden Journey is the ride inside the iconic Hogwarts castle inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure. It’s a simulation style ride but with some pretty large movements and spins. Some folks definitely feel it when they get off the ride, but it’s absolutely spectacular.

The Dragon Challenge is the roller coaster attraction inside Harry Potter that was formerly known as Dueling Dragons. It’s a bit old, but still a ton of fun for roller coaster fans.

Universal Orlando continues to offer tourists from every corner of the globe as well as local Orlando residents with more fun than you can imagine. While locals roll their eyes at the tourist attractions in town, having the option to drive 10 minutes and enjoy the world class attractions and rides of the Universal theme parks is indeed a blessing.

If you’re a local, time your visits with the non-peak seasons of tourism and you’re sure to enjoy the theme parks immensely. Also, don’t try hitting new attractions immediately upon opening as the queue lines can be obnoxiously long. As a local, you have the option to wait until the crowds die down; take that option!

The folks at Universal continue to invest in their attractions and parks, so we will continue to watch what they’re doing and update readers with news. More attractions are on the way, and we will indeed be looking to experience and review the new and best Universal Orlando rides upon their opening in the months and years ahead.

A Review of Food Fun Adventure Orlando

I have two great vices in life: food and shopping. The cultural variation thanks to tourism and general amazingness that is Orlando make it incredibly hard to control those particular addictions. Not to mention having a full time job greatly restricts the time I have to try out all the new Orlando restaurants around the city. Nonetheless I am always on the search for a dilly adventure that exposes me to more of my fabulous city. For this reason I am a Living Social and Groupon addict.

I love the option to try new places at a discounted price and have rarely had a bad experience when using my vouchers as can often occur according to the online community. A few months ago I came across an Orlando Foodie Fun Adventure tour on one of these websites, and temptation won over. I called my college buddy, Jordan, and together we purchased the voucher to see what it was all about.

The Foodie tour is distributed by Food Fun Adventure, a company that focuses on the gourmandizing undertaking through child and adult cooking classes and food tours in a variety of cities across the country. The premise involves a walking tour (no fear of trachle as it’s less than 8 blocks guaranteed) with stops at 4 to 5 restaurants in the area to try small portions of their offerings. The particular tour we purchased was a little over two hours long and did not include any drinks, though there is a Food and Wine tour available at the website.

To be perfectly honest, the scheduling was tricky. It was via email with one of their correspondents and although they promptly responded they could use a more automated method for booking. Apart from that, we finalized the date a little less than a week before when they had a convenient cancellation and Jordan and I were off on our adventure!

We were told to arrive at Jade Bistro in College Park to start our tour. I had never been to College Park before. It’s wonderful. The area in which we found ourselves consisted of a series of streets filled with a wide array of restaurants and shopping locales. I was instantly excited and ready to start the tour. There were three tour guides ready to usher us in to a long table in the center of the mostly empty restaurant. There was one other couple when we arrived, but within 10 minutes 6 more couples showed up, totaling our count to 16 plus the guides. This, as we soon found out was a great number of people to mingle and share the experience with. We did not wait long before the waitress in Jade Bistro brought us our first course (after a slightly pushy attempt to have us purchase drinks and other food from the menu). We had an appetizer portion of dumplings and krab rangoons. There were enough for each person to try one of each, and then a few extra that we all politely offered to each other until some of us (me included) took the plunge and ate them. They were tasty morsels but I was certainly ready for more.

rangoons

Once we were finished, the Food Fun Adventure Orlando tour guides led us to our next destination right down the street, Delights of Benezit, a French bakery. This was my favorite spot due to my obsession with how French cooking mixes flavors. I could not resist purchasing a chocolate croissant before we received our tasting. The café provided us with a sandwich that had goat cheese, apples, red onions, and bacon known as “The Sweet.” I loved it! Nowadays, I would compare it the quality and flavorful tendency of 100 Montaditos in Winter Park, having never been when I went on the tour it was just a fantastic tapas sized morsel. From my fellow foodie’s, this spot seemed to have the most disparate view. Some loved the sandwich, some hated it, but almost everyone decided, like myself, to purchase a baked good from the appetizing display behind the glass. The next stop was probably the favorite amongst the group, King Fish Grill.  Ironically, despite it’s name we had Mediterranean Pizza with tomatoes and plenty of cheese. It was tasty, as pizza often is, but I was disappointed we did not try something more iconic from the menu. Once finished, and now feeling much more full than when we began, we trudged along to our last stop, excited but wishing it wasn’t over. We went to Cookie Cousins for dessert, a fun bakery that designs cookies for all occasions. They brought out a tray of quite a few plain sugar cookies with their vanilla frosting and we all ate plenty while saying our thank you’s and goodbyes.

I enjoyed the tour but upon finishing was not left totally satisfied. The entire tour felt slightly cobbled together haphazardly and despite it being around 2 hours, it felt short and not totally satisfying. Probably what I found most disappointing was that despite the food being tasty, I would have preferred to try more iconic menu items. Jade Bistro is known for its sushi, the appetizers we had are typical to any Asian restaurant. The biggest disappointment for me was King Fish Grill. We were served something from the safety menu. It’s the pizza your friend who you dragged to the restaurant eats because they hate fish, not what sets the restaurant apart. The tour guides were all very sweet and generous but generally soft spoken and not as informative as I would have liked. I also thought the price, $69.99 for Jordan and I, was a little much considering we probably could have recreated the whole tour with a few friends and paid less for all of us.

Would I recommend Food Fun Adventure Orlando? I’m not one to vilify after only one exposure, so yes. I for one know that given the chance and a better price I would give them another chance as I do appreciate the exposure to College Park and some fun eateries in the area. If you have the expendable income, you will have a good time and engage in some interesting conversation with the couples on the trip (all couples by the way, we were the only set of friends), if you don’t, you might want to consider just going to a new restaurant on your own.

Photo courtesy of Jordan Almazan

Date Night Orlando: Creative ideas for your next date

rosesDinner and a movie is the quintessential date night. I don’t know how many times my coupled friends tell me they are going to Chili’s and a film at Regal Cinemas. There are plenty of Regal Cinemas, AMCs, and dollar theatres to keep your date nights filled for the entire year albeit with the risk of a bromidic consistency.  Whether you’re in a date night rut, new to the Orlando scene and unaware of the doings, or just looking for some ideas to supplement your already satisfying repertoire of romantic plans, the following is a list of some of my favorite date night activities. Step up and upgrade your date night Orlando experience!

Dinner and a Movie upgrades:

For those evenings when you seek amusement apart from the dissipation your partner’s conversation can lead to, options abound away from viewing the latest blockbuster on a big screen.

Consider the Enzian in gorgeous Maitland, an alternative, not-for profit cinema that shows a variety of Indie films and has it’s own attached eatery, Eden Bar, with tasty morsels to nibble on.

Or check out Winter Garden’s aptly named Garden Theatre. They have an intriguing Summer Movie series screening classic and cult films at only $5 (fun and frugal) and a variety of local restaurants within walking distance (the grapevine has mentioned lovely reviews of The Attic Door, a café and wine bar).

Another affordable option is the occasional Date Night at Leu Gardens during which you can not only enjoy a fun movie outside, but also a romantic stroll through a garden with plenty of shady spots to sneak an embrace with your paramour.

Prefer live shows? Check out the article on local theatres! The Rusty Spoon for dinner and a performance at Mad Cow across the street is my absolute favorite go-to date night.

Interactive Dates:

I find that sparks soar when you and your significant others hands work together to create something. Think pottery making in the movie Ghost. There are plenty of hands-on date night activities to try in the area.

Farris and Fosters Chocolate Factory in Baldwin Park and Dr. Phillips have a Friday date night where you create tasty chocolate concoctions.

Consider one of the many cropping up art and wine classes where you can BYOW and drink as you spread your imagination on a canvas, such as Creative Canvas and Wine in Altamonte Springs.

If you’re still lingering on the aforementioned pottery example try All Fired Up in Winter Park, where you can paint your very own piece of pottery.

My absolute favorite experience with a beau is cooking a full meal for our enjoyment. Consider a cooking class! The Table, a fabulous small eating experience in itself, offers monthly cooking classes, or try Truffles and Trifles cooking classes for a more affordable experience.

Active Dates:

They say endorphins released with exercise act as an aphrodisiac, so consider convincing your inamorato to join you in a healthy and feel-good chemical releasing active date!

Dancing is a great way to jumpstart the blood flowing; try Latin Quarter in CityWalk, a restaurant that become a fun Latin nightclub on weekends. Salsa dancing is a great exercise and when your feet are too soar to go on I’m sure your partner won’t minding you leaning on them for support!

Bowling is a classic and the competition is sure to rile up the spirit, it’s not my favorite activity but Firkin and Kegler in Waterford Lakes has a Friday and Saturday night music night that adds to the experience, and if it become to prosaic you have the option of engaging in some fun arcade games. Or consider two new bowling options in Orlando.

If you really want to increase your heart rate consider an afternoon at Aiguille Rock Climbing Center; tired muscles are sure to follow but you’ll have a blast challenging yourselves to complete their numerous walls.

Educational Dates:

In my opinion, a knowledgeable date is a sexy date; why not embark on a night where you can both grow your minds and your attraction!

Try Cocktails and Cosmos, an occasional event at the Orlando Science Center for adults. Enjoy all the regular fun exhibits along with a cash bar and music.

Not exactly informational, but try Retro Game Night at the scholarly Orlando History Center.

Expand your artistic appreciation with 1st Thursdays at the Orlando museum of arts, an evening exhibition with works by local artists, live music, cash bars, and café offerings from local restaurants.

Looking for a challenge instead of a didactic night? Try Earth Triva, which according to them makes use of your useless knowledge. These fun trivia nights occur all around Orlando in different venues nightly, it’s free, just check their website for the location and head over for a night of testing your grasp of normally unprofitable information.

For an instruction in libation, head over to The Wine Room in Winter Park for one of their winery events held throughout the year. Check out their website for dates and pricing.

It’s time to upgrade your Date Night Orlando experience. Living in Orlando leaves you no excuse to involve you and your companion in the same prosaic excursions. Steer clear from the conventional evening, and try one of these fresh, romantic date ideas!

Photo courtesy of Jordan Almazan

Bowling Alley in Orlando Florida? Two new options to consider…

If you’re looking for a bowling alley in Orlando, Florida, we have two new options for you to consider. In fact, it’s probably a disservice to both of these venues to call them bowling alleys. The modern bowling alley is part bowling, part nightclub, part great food, and part great drinks. Kings Bowl on International Drive and Splitsville at Downtown Disney are two new options that both fit this description of modern bowling alleys.

Splitsville opened in late 2012 and took over the old Virgin Megastore that was a landmark at Downtown Disney’s West End adjacent to the AMC movie theater. The massive two story bowling complex is impressive, and you won’t be disappointed. The venue definitely caters to the  Downtown Disney guests which isn’t surprising as that’s part of what you sign up for when you lease Disney property. As such, the feel of the venue might not be as adult-oriented when compared to Kings.

The food might be slightly better at Splitsville, but I think the venue at Kings is better for locals. The upstairs of Splitsville is probably the better part of the venue. The gigantic outdoor patio on the 2nd level has a great bar and you can enjoy the breeze and people watching from up there. There are more pockets of lanes along with pool tables upstairs as well.

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Kings Bowl takes the place of the old Gooding’s supermarket location on International Drive in the same shopping plaza as Charley’s Steakhouse.

When you walk in, you’ll immediately see the great work they did in building out this venue. It has a more bar and upscale feel with a central bar and more television screens than you can count as main features of the venue.  The back portion of the venue includes pool tables and a shuffleboard table. The front part of the venue includes a semi-separate restaurant with booths that have built in beer taps that charge you by the ounce (very cool).

photo (2)For parties up to 30, the front private room is tough to beat. It comes with 4 lanes (see above picture) and a door to the patio that has a bocce court (shown to the right). Kings offers packages which let you rent the room in advance and purchase food & beverage on a per person basis. Great for birthday parties or other get togethers.

Like I said, it’s unfair to call these places “bowling alleys.”

Both Kings and Splitsville are fantastic new venues in town which are a great way to mix up Orlando nightlife. Rather than heading to another bar or club and hanging around with a drink in your hand, do the same but add some actual bowling to the outing. These venues are upscale and dressy, a far cry from other bowling alleys in town.

It’s worth noting that these places also come with a higher price. For a full night of bowling, drinks and food, it’s probably quite easy to spend $50 per person, and depending on what you drink, even higher.  If your goal is to practice your bowling stroke, you’re better off finding the traditional bowling alleys scattered around Orlando. If you enjoy bowling, but want to enjoy the venue itself at the same time, then Kings and Splitsville are great options.

Orlando Neighborhood Guide: Bay Hill

The Bay Hill area of Orlando is generally described as the area on either side of Apopka-Vineland Road in southwest Orlando, north of Lake Buena Vista and south of Windermere. It’s adjacent to the Dr Phillips community in Orlando. The Bay Hill neighborhood is on the western side of Apopka Vineland, north of Sand Lake Rd and south of Conroy Rd.

Bay Hill is mostly known for its gorgeous golf club and the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational that takes place here, but the neighborhood is also home to a wide range of real estate options with a variety of price points.

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History: The Bay Hill golf course broke ground in 1960. Thoughout the 1960’s, the neighborhood began to take shape with an added 9-hole course named The Charger and the emergence of homes on what is now Bay Hill Boulevard.

In 1970, Arnold Palmer took a lease with the option to buy Bay Hill, and the next era of growth for Bay Hill began. In 1979, Arnold Palmer won over the PGA Tour to host a tournament at Bay Hill – now known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Today, the neighborhood is host to numerous homes, condos, the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, a world class golf course, and lush Central Florida scenery in nearby lakes and wildlife.

Restaurants & Shopping: Bay Hill has essentially an ideal proximity to some of the best shopping and dining in Southwest Orlando. The nearby restaurant row on Sand Lake Rd is host to enough restaurants that you could go out for dinner every night and never get tired of the nearby venues. Sand Lake has a number of boutique shops in the Dr. Phillips Market Place and other shopping strips in the area. Millenia Mall is a short drive away for world class shopping.

Family & Fitness: The Bay Hill neighborhood has a number of activities and fitness options nearby. The new LA Fitness of Windermere is a five minute drive down Apopka Vineland. For kids, My Gym on Sand Lake is fun, or if you prefer to get outdoors, the Dr P. Phillips Park is nearby as well.

The Dr. Phillips YMCA if less than 5 minutes away and includes fantastic work out and sports facilites for the entire family.

Schools: Dr. Phillips Elementary School, Southwest Middle School, Dr. Phillips High School

Extras: Bay Hill has its own marina for residents that want to have their boat available for easy access in the fantastic Butler Chain. Moreover, club memberships are available for full golf and social memberships which allow use of the club facilities such as the pool & tennis courts.

The Bay Hill neighborhood is a gem of southwest Orlando with the unique combination of world famous golf, a range of housing options and the adjacent Butler Chain of lakes.

Photo Credit: camflan via Flickr

July 4th Orlando Events

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Fewer holidays elicit the outpouring of patriotic emotion and the expression of outdoor fun and activity like Independence Day. Finding events to celebrate this All-American holiday is a priority for many Americans and Orlando residents.

Central Florida has been enveloped in humidity, and endless sunny (apart from the daily afternoon showers) days with boundless promise. Summer is here, and the quintessential dog days celebration, Independence Day, is just around the corner!

Looking for July 4th Orlando events? My plans rarely stray from lounging in my kitchen smashing avocados with my mother and sister while my dad grills burgers and hot dogs over flushed, sizzling coals. If I do anything on the 4th of July, it will probably be the City of Winter Park Olde Fashioned 4th of July Celebration. A few highlights: it takes place in Central Park in Downtown Winter Park, includes FREE hot dogs, watermelon, and water, live patriotic music by the Bach Festival Brass Band and Choir, horse drawn wagon rides, children’s activities, and FREE admission to the Morse Museum of American Art. It’s open from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.

However, many people seek a little more excitement from their 4th of July celebration; by excitement I mean colorful, explosive blasts of American patriotism in the heavens, commonly referred to as “fireworks.” Such being the case, I have rummaged across the city looking at window postings and flipping leaflets searching for the best 4th of July celebrations in the area. When that failed miserably I just went to each city’s website and scrolled through their event page. The resulting list is my effort to quickly consolidate some of the selections for your Thursday celebrations.

Firework Fun – Here is a list of some of the fireworks shows occurring on the 4th in the greater Orlando area.

Fireworks at the Fountain-Free, around Lake Eola, festivities start at 4.

Leesburg 4th of July Celebration-Free, at the Venetian Gardens, starts at 6.

Fireworks at Avalon Park-Free, at Avalon Park, starts at 5. ***Be sure to check out the Apple Pie-Bake Off!

All theme parks in the area will have special fireworks shows. Disney will also have special events in every park. Legoland will have the added feature of providing all attendee’s with 3-D glasses for viewing the fireworks with a special effect.

Celebration of Freedom in Winter Springs: Free, at Central Winds Park, fireworks over Lake Jesup.

Fourth of July Celebration in Sanford-Free, at the new RiverWalk downtown, fireworks over Lake Munroe.

Independence Day Celebration in Oviedo: Free, at the Oviedo Mall, starts at 4.

Mount Dora 4th of July Celebration: Free, at Gilbert Park.

All of these events are kid friendly. If you’re looking for something a little less child happy, consider stopping by Howl at the Moon Piano bar or Wall Street Plaza on the 3rd for Red, White, and Brew. There will plenty of drink specials to toast national values and attenuate your reserve towards singing along to America the Beautiful with your fellow patriots.

Have a safe, fun 4th of July and enjoy the day off from work despite the sweltering heat these past few weeks. These holidays are few and far between and certainly deserve you partaking in the most fun conceivable. And of course, Happy Independence Day!